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Thursday, June 27, 2013
Big Ten Thursday mailbag

By Brian Bennett

Strap yourselves in for some Thursday mailbag action:

Brian from Atlanta writes: Which takes priority in assigning bowls - the 5 teams in 6 years rule or the tiers of bowls? If the same 5-6 teams keep finishing at the top of the B10, that choice will have to be made. Does this mean B10 #7 might play in the Outback because the better teams have already been there?

Brian Bennett: That's an excellent question (and a great name), Brian. First of all, I'd say we're going to have to wait and see how this whole process works in practice. But judging from Jim Delany's comments, "freshness" is the buzzword now when it comes to bowls. The Big Ten doesn't want teams going back to the same destination over and over again, and part of the reason for stretching the bowl lineup out from the East Coast to Florida to Texas to California is so that league teams can rotate through different parts of the country.

There should also be enough bowls to satisfy the needs in most cases. Remember that the Big Ten champ could go to the four-team playoff and the runner-up could go to the Rose Bowl in years where the Rose is not a semifinal site. The Big Ten could also place a team in the Orange Bowl in some years. Then there are the Tier One bowls: Capital One, Outback and Holiday. Still, the five-in-six limitation could cause some issues, especially if a team like Nebraska continues to win nine or 10 games every year but does not win the conference title. Could I see a year when a 10-2 Huskers team, for example, is relegated to the Gator or -- gasp -- Music City Bowl? Yes, that's possible, but a whole lot of things would probably have to happen for that to develop. The positive here is that it's highly unlikely we'll see a team go to the same bowl (outside of the Rose) in back-to-back years, as Nebraska did in 2011 and 2012.


Michael from Evanston, Ill., writes: I have a general comment after reading about how difficult it would be to get a Midwest bowl game to succeed. There are successful bowls in cold weather territories. Look at the Pinstripe Bowl in New York, which the B1G so eagerly signed on to play in. I know for the most part bowls will be more desirable if played in warm weather cities, but wouldn't having maybe one cold weather bowl be a nice way to maintain home field advantage in this sea of southern games? If I had a say I would try to get a game going in Chicago, I know the seating capacity is small but maybe even at Wrigley Field. Ever since the Cubs announced that they are trying to reconfigure the field for future Northwestern football games (thus fixing the half field problem) it just makes too much sense not to explore. The opportunity to see a football Wrigley Field may be just the draw to get people to Chitown, which is quite lovely around Christmas time. Would such a model ever work?

Brian Bennett: My first response would be, is the Pinstripe Bowl really that successful? In two of the three years, the game has been plagued by bad weather, and the Big 12 couldn't wait to get out of New York. I still think it's a good bowl for the Big Ten as a lower-tier game that gives them presence on the East Coast, but it's not exactly the Rose Bowl. And that's the point: a Midwest game is fine for games that aren't going to feature marquee teams and matchups, because most fans probably aren't going to get too excited to travel far for a 7-5, 6-6 type team anyway. The bigger games are always going to be in warm-weather climates. Now, we could discuss why college football farms out its postseason in order to boost tourism for far-away cities instead of utilizing its large on-campus stadiums and traditions, but that's another debate entirely.


Rich from Des Moines writes: I think we, as Big Ten football fans, should stop worrying about how the 9-game schedule and FCS opponent ban will affect the chances of Big Ten teams getting into a playoff. Because there are no defined parameters for how teams will qualify (for example requiring a conference championship), playoff bids are kind of a crapshoot. There is absolutely no control whatsoever any team has on qualifying for the playoff. Therefore, I think we should embrace more games against conference foes. (I'd even advocate a 10-game slate even though I realize that is not very likely right now.) I want to see the best possible slate of Big Ten games including non-conference games. If that means the Big Ten Champion doesn't make the playoff over a non-champion from another conference that plays a softer non-conference schedule, then so be it. Until they take every conference champion into a playoff, the champion will never be a true champion in my mind anyway. Moreover, does anybody really think an undefeated Big Ten Champion would be denied a playoff bid? I highly doubt that would ever happen. Let's play the best possible schedules and let the playoff chips fall where they may, conference perception be damned. We can't change the perception of others until we win some big games anyway and I for one am tired of the meaningless debate about which conference is better. Your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: Some outstanding points here. It's not like the Big Ten has been really piling up the national titles, anyway. The league has just one championship in the entire BCS era. While the Big Ten's goal should be getting a team in the four-team playoff as often as possible, as you said there's no guarantee of that happening. Playing better opponents and more league games is a major victory for fans regardless of what happens in the postseason. The one thing I'd worry about is the conference becoming less relevant if it doesn't appear in the playoff most years. But Big Ten fans have shown they will support and watch their teams even when there are no real national title stakes.


Andrew from Fremont, Ind., writes: How on Earth could you rank Rutgers ahead of any real Big Ten program or Maryland? Is it because of their awesome back-to-back shared Big East Conference titles, a conference which produced BCS participants such as 8-4 Pittsburgh and 8-4 UConn (by no fault of their own)? Is it because of Rutgers' amazing tradition in football, the birthplace of College Football and then nothing until 2005? Is it that they are nearly a mirror image of former and now current BE (American Athletic Conference) member Temple? Are these the reasons Rutgers has more upside than Purdue, Illinois, Indiana and Maryland? (You know this is a huge problem if a Purdue is saying ANYONE is better than IU).

Brian from Washington, D.C., writes: Please explain to me you logic for ranking Rutgers No. 10 in your future power ranking? Given their recruiting success, string of bowl appearances, and outstanding player development, how can you justify entrenching Rutgers deep in the bottom half of the B1G? Is this just a way to mess with Rutgers fans, or are you serious? If you are serious, you have likely lost your grip on reality.

Brian Bennett: These two emails prove one thing: you can't please everybody when you do any kind of power rankings. Look, it's really difficult to assess how Rutgers will fit into the Big Ten. I covered the Big East and the Scarlet Knights in my previous gig, and I know this is a major step up in competition for Rutgers, especially in an East Division that will feature Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. The Scarlet Knights have become a consistent bowl team with excellent access to big-time recruits, but they've also mostly played very weak schedules with few if any signature nonconference wins (and contrary to Andrew's email, they have only one shared Big East title, a four-way tie in 2012). I feel confident that Rutgers can compete with the lower- to mid-tier Big Ten programs but that it will have to get much better to contend for a division title. The team's ability to recruit and more recent bowl success is why we ranked it -- in a very close call -- ahead of Purdue and Indiana.


Scott from Williamsport, Pa., writes: As a PSU fan I am not going to scream the Oregon didn't get punished fairly, but I am wondering if the League is paying attention to what happened. After seeing what happened to Oregon, isn't it time for Delany to start talking with Emmert about reducing the PSU penalties. Surely Delany can see the inconsistency of NCAA infractions and knows it would be in the best interest of the league to have a strong PSU.

Brian Bennett: While I'll certainly agree that the Penn State penalties deserve at least another look, I find it hard to compare the Nittany Lions' case to Oregon's. Just a wildly different set of circumstances between the two cases, so much so that I see no parallels. Remember that the Big Ten jumped in after the NCAA punished Penn State with its own penalties, so I doubt Jim Delany and the league office will be lobbying -- at least not publicly -- for leniency. And with all the lawsuits and legal wrangling, not to mention the numerous P.R. hits they've taken lately, my bet is that Mark Emmert and the NCAA dig in their heels.


Cacey from Toledo, Ohio, writes: How is it Oregon does not receive a postseason ban but Ohio State did? Oregon was charged with failure to monitor their program just like Ohio State and the violations were major enough for both Kelly and Tressel to receive a show cause order. Not to mention, this is Oregon's second major violation in 10 years (2003 recruiting violation). I understand that Kelly did not 'know' about the violation according to the NCAA, while Tressel did when at Ohio State. Do you think that is the difference maker here?

Brian Bennett: I think -- and Adam has written this -- that the difference between the two cases is how much new problems kept bubbling up for Ohio State. First, the Buckeyes claimed no knowledge of the players' actions, then it was revealed that Jim Tressel knew and covered it up. Then, after the school declared that there were no more infractions, new information came up about a rogue Cleveland booster. Fair or not, I believe that caused a perception in the infraction committee members' minds that things were getting out of control. Of course, I'm mostly speculating here since the NCAA rarely explains itself and shows no consistency whatsoever in its rulings. The ironic thing is what Oregon did almost certainly had a bigger effect on helping the Ducks land players and compete better on the field than any of the misdeeds by the Buckeyes.


Jack from Huntington Woods, Mich., writes: In Monday's lunch links, you wrote a blurb about it's all great in Detroit and then you get shot in the face. What were you referencing? Comment seems offensive on the surface. Are you channeling your inner Gordon Gee?

Brian Bennett: Jack, that was a quote from Sunday's "Mad Men" finale which I found amusing, especially since it applied to a city in Big Ten country. The line was referencing a character who had accidentally been shot in the face on a hunting trip in the woods with some Chevy executives in 1968 -- hardly any kind of indictment on the city today. We quote TV shows and other nonsense all the time in the links, mostly just to amuse ourselves. The bigger question here is, why aren't you watching "Mad Men"?